Best of the Fest: The Films at Fantastic Fest ’14

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Preston Barta & Cole Clay // Critic

We plundered through the crowded docket of films that were on the schedule at Fantastic Fest last week to bring you our picks for the films you need to be on the lookout for in the coming months. Some of these films already have their release dates confirmed, while others may take longer than expected.

Without further ado these are the best and worst of Fantastic Fest 2014!

THE BABADOOK

Of the 25+ films that we saw, one of the biggest standouts was the incredibly effective Australian horror film THE BABADOOK. The film follows Amelia (a knockout Essie Davis), a depressed mother who thought her biggest issue was her son’s violent outbursts. Well, that was before ‘Mr. Babadook,’ a ghostly figure who you just have to see to believe.

Most horror films these days’ climax happens somewhere in the middle and loses momentum afterwards to where everything that follows doesn’t have the same effect (think INSIDIOUS, which is, nevertheless, a decent horror movie). But in THE BABADOOK, there is comic relief brilliantly placed throughout to bring you down from your own climax just so they get another opportunity to make you fear up and fall once more. First-time feature director Jennifer Kent understands the psychology behind tension and builds suspense through mere scene construction.

The scares, the pacing, sound design and camera work all lend to the film’s high standing, bringing messed up to a whole new level. It’s spectacular. (Hopefully distribution companies in the U.S. pick this up soon, otherwise it may be late next year until American audiences can finally see it.)

sq_turistFORCE MAJEURE

It should be noted that this is Sweden’s official submission for Best Foreign Language film at next year’s Academy Awards. Yes, it does set the gold standard for foreign films this year, but Ruben Östlund not-quite comedy, not-quite drama hybrid takes an insightful perspective into the implosive effects of the male ego.

Johannes Kuhnke lets his performance slowly unravel as Tomas, a privileged businessman plagued with entitlement. His wife Ebba, played by Lisa Loven Kongsli, is the brains of the operation, as she ponders her husband’s place in their model family after he leaves them high and dry in a time of need.

Östlund manages the marital tensions and poses societal questions that translate into passive aggressive hilarity.

HB-POSTER_QUOTES_PORTRAIT_A2_Frame_v5HOUSEBOUND

It’s difficult to be an expert on New Zealand films when the cannon is limited to hobbits and wizards. Be that as it may, HOUSEBOUND is a great jumping off point for those who are craving a bit of irreverence from the Kiwis.

Gerard Johnstone keeps the deadpan humor rolling as we follow Kiley (Morgana O’Reilly), a felon forced under house arrest with her mother (Rima Te Wiata) in a haunted, old bed and breakfast.

This film uses its sense of timing to great effect for comedy and horror alike. HOUSEBOUND is a mish-mash of a film that echoes a grotesque Scooby-Doo mystery, minus the stoner dog. Newcomer Johnstone created a film riddled with red herrings that will keep genre fans pleased and the comedic elements buzzing.

it_follows_xlgIT FOLLOWS

David Robert Mitchell’s second film takes an entirely plausible occurrence such as an STD and instead of getting a few pesky bumps you get a supernatural entity calculating your every move. IT FOLLOWS plays a waiting game that most genre fare neglects to revel in, and while still relying on a few jump scares, it’s what you don’t see that is utterly terrifying.

If Mitchell stripped this disturbing piece of cinema of all its horror elements it would remain a compelling hang-out film about the insignificance of days wasted in suburbia. Mitchell understands that the pockets of waiting are the most terrifying aspects of horror. In fact, these bored teens delight in the chance to get off the couch despite the bone-chilling circumstances.

IT FOLLOWS is a retroactive piece of filmmaking and instead of winking at this fact, Mitchell respectfully tips his cap to the classics that preceded this fantastic little horror film.

lost_soul_the_doomed_journey_of_richard_stanleys_island_of_dr_moreauLOST SOUL – THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU

Richard Stanley  emerged in the early 90s as one of the great genre directors, producing such great works as HARDWARE (1990) and DUST DEVIL (1992). After his success and recognition with those two films, Stanley took on a big budget film – the adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1996).

Stanley penned the script and was set to direct, but after Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer came on board, bringing their egos and big ideas to alter the script, Stanley was forced to leave by the studio. Because, who fires Brando and Kilmer over the director?

So, what did they do? They hired a new director (John Frankenheimer) and the script ran wild, ultimately leading to one of the biggest flops of the 90s.

This terrific documentary, and one of the best movies of the years (it just may make our top 10), gives us the 411 on what really happened on that set. The result is absolutely bananas: script changes galore, fights, witchcraft –

Rating: ☆☆☆½

Rating: ☆☆☆½

some crazy stuff unfolds. It’s like reading the posts on Facebook of that one friend you keep as your friend just because they bicker and makes you feel better about yourself. LOST SOUL is entertaining to boot!

NIGHTCRAWLER

NIGHTCRAWLER, about a freelance crime journalist, is a haunting movie with a stilted atmosphere. Great character studies punctuated by violent action scenes keep the audience immersed in this gripping film. Some powerful performances (especially Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo), stylish direction (Dan Gilroy) and intricate plotting, complete this whirlwind of near-perfection.

Honorable Mentions:

BLIND, CUB, THE EDITOR, I AM A KNIFE WITH LEGS, JOHN WICK, and MY LIFE DIRECTED BY NICOLAS WINDING REFN

Worst of the Fest:

BON APPÉTIT, EVERLY, FELT, FROM THE DARK, THE HIVE, and OPEN WINDOWS

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.